Ayalon: 'Vatican Synod is a forum for Arab propaganda'

Bishops demand that Israel accept UN resolutions calling for an end to "occupation" of Arab lands; Pope calls for religious freedom.

Danny Ayalon JPost interview 311 (photo credit: Benjamin Spier)
Danny Ayalon JPost interview 311
(photo credit: Benjamin Spier)
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on Sunday slammed the Vatican’s Middle East synod after bishops called for an end to the “occupation.”
In a communique issued on Saturday, at the finish of a twoweek conference on the future of Christians in the region, the bishops demanded that Israel accept UN resolutions calling for an end to its “occupation” of Arab lands, and told Israel it should not use the Bible to justify “injustices” against the Palestinians.
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While the bishops condemned terrorism and anti- Semitism, they laid much of the blame for the conflict on Israel. They listed the “occupation” of Palestinian lands, the West Bank security barrier, its military checkpoints, “political prisoners,” demolition of homes and disturbance of Palestinians’ lives as factors that have made life increasingly difficult for Palestinians.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon responded: “We express our disappointment that this important synod has become a forum for political attacks on Israel in the best tradition of Arab propaganda.
The synod was hijacked by an anti-Israel majority.
“We are especially appalled at the language used by Archbishop [Cyril Salim] Bustros during his press conference,” Ayalon remarked, referring to the archbishop whose committee drafted the statement.
“We call on the Vatican to distant themselves from Archbishop Butros’s comments, which are a libel against the Jewish people and the State of Israel and should not be construed as the Vatican’s official position. These outrageous comments should not cast a shadow over the important relationship between the Vatican, the State of Israel and the Jewish people,” Ayalon said.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman criticized the bishops’ statement that Israel shouldn’t use the Bible to justify “injustices” against the Palestinians.
“This has never been a policy of any government in Israel, so this position sounds particularly hollow,” Yigal Palmor said on Sunday. “Let he who has never sinned cast the first stone.”
Palmor also said that Israel is the only Middle East country whose Christian population is growing, and called on Christians not to flee the region.
“Israel views their presence in the Middle East as a blessing and regrets their decline in Arab countries,” he said.
According to statistics he provided, there were 151,700 Christians in Israel last year, up from 132,000 in 1999 and 107,000 two decades ago.
Also on Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI called for greater religious freedom in the Middle East and said that peace there is possible, urgently needed and the best remedy for the exodus of Christians from the region.
He called freedom of religion “one of the fundamental human rights, which each state should always respect” and said the issue should be the subject of dialogue with Muslims.
The pontiff said that, while freedom of worship exists in many Mideast countries, the space given to the actual freedom to practice “is many times very limited.”
Expanding this space, he said, is necessary to guarantee “true freedom to live and profess one’s faith.”
The exodus of Christians has been a major theme of the meeting, which gathered about 185 bishops from Latin and Eastern rite Catholic churches across the region and from the diaspora. In addition, two imams and Rabbi David Rosen, a Jerusalem-based adviser to the Chief Rabbinate, addressed the synod.
Benedict said many Christians living in the Middle East are in discomfort either because of poor economic conditions or because of the “discouragement, the state of tension and sometimes of fear” they live in.
“Peace is possible. Peace is urgent,” Benedict said in his homily. “Peace is also the best remedy to avoid the emigration from the Middle East.”
Also on Sunday, Benedict announced that the 2012 synod would be dedicated to the theme of evangelization.
The pontiff has recently created a new Vatican office – the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization – to revive Christianity in Europe, part of his efforts to counter secular trends in traditionally Christian countries.